Here’s a fun travel tip for you. If you’re ever flying Ryanair and you don’t want to pay for seat selection, check in as late as you possibly can. My anecdotal use of the “random” algorithm they run has put me in the middle of row 25 both times I’ve checked in right when the system opens and gotten progressively better as I learned how best to mess with the system. So by the time I was checking in for my last outbound Dublin flight (to Naples) I had my system perfectly in place, and was rewarded with a seat in the front of the plane in the window with no one next to me and extra legroom. From there, the trip only got better.
I landed in Naples late at night and wandered from the airport to my hostel for the first night to be greeted by a group of people playing the house guitar and singing (which was a lot to walk in to) and then immediately was thrown in to a foosball tournament wherein I learned that Italians seriously love foosball and was then carried by my partner to a second place finish before switching to singles and promptly getting schooled. The following days’ activities were slightly more exciting.
I woke up bright and early with a dream and headed across town, aiming to drop my stuff and figure out the feasibility of seeing Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii in the same day. My hostel was justifiable unprepared to take my backpack when I arrived at 8:30 AM, but the guy at the front desk totally made up for it by listening to me describe my desire to climb a volcano and see ruins and eat pizza and then handing me a map and giving me step by step instructions to make it happen.
The first step was Vesuvius, which I reached by taking a quick and cheap train and then a longer and more expensive bus until I found myself in the parking lot facing a climb to the caldera ring. Forty minutes later I found myself at the top, staring out at the Mediterranean and the urban sprawl of Naples and then turning around and looking at a massive steaming hole that could at any moment explode and kill everyone there (I may have exaggerated that last bit slightly).
I then descended the mountain and got back on the train, heading to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Upon arrival I was denied the student discount by an indignant Italian woman who held my Irish resident card in the air screaming “European Citizens Only,” an experience the enormous and amazing set of ruins I then paid full price to enter made up for. Pompeii is amazing: the history of its excavation is interesting in of itself, but the buildings themselves are the real treasure, with some wealthier houses including forced air central heating and hydraulic pumps for water. The views were also spectacular: the crystal clear day that allowed great views from the top of Mt. Vesuvius also let it loom in the back of every shot of Pompeii, helping to demonstrate how terrifying it must have been when the mountain exploded.
From there I headed back to Naples, finally dropped all of my things off, and showered. In total I had walked around 11 miles, summitted a volcano, and carried a backpack full of six days’ worth of clothes and a camera (and more!) the entire time. It’s safe to say that my future children will never complain about walking to school with their things without hearing about this day.
I added another four miles before the day was out, first by walking to one of the top rated pizza restaurants in Naples, the city that invented pizza. By function of the table design I got to spend dinner talking to some nice Canadians and then set out to explore the waterfront, ending my day chilling by the ocean drinking free prosecco and generally lording my extremely privileged life over the four people that still respond to my texts.
The next day began as all good travel days do – on a train. After twenty minutes of having my own four person section and two hours of listening to Italian grandmothers talk seemingly without stopping I arrived in Rome, the final city in my solo European travel adventure.
Rome was super fun. My first day was pretty much dedicated to wandering around trying different highly rated gelato and pasta places and just seeing as much of the city as I could, ending with my discovery of a bar that included in the price of one drink unlimited access to a massive table of food you could go to before sitting by the river and hanging out with your new Serbian friend and twitter follower.
The next day was significantly more touristy, if that’s even possible. I toured the colosseum and roman forum, had like 9 different strangers take photos of me in the hopes that I’d have a cool Rome insta that wasn’t totally terrible, and went out with the people in my hostel room because that’s legally required of backpackers in Rome.
My final day in Rome was spent touring the Vatican with my hostel friends and eating the last of the six thousand gelatos I ate during my five days in Italy.
Perhaps in honor of it being my last time through customs, it only took 5 minutes to escape the Dublin airport and take my final 50 minute bus ride home, where I slept for 15 hours and awoke with barely enough time to track down the necessary ingredients for my last blow-up-the-kitchen adventure: making pot stickers. Unfortunately, I was a little hungry when I started cooking, and ending up making about nine times more than I needed. They were good though, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I decided to invite some friends over to help me finish them.
They arrived at 5:30 the next morning.